light into ashes
Feb 13, 2012 12:07pm
the Dead in England (a '73 review)
This is part of a 1973 article on the Grateful Dead from the English magazine ZigZag, by writer Andy Childs.
Most of the article is a bio of the band, clipped mostly from earlier Rolling Stone pieces, but I thought it might be worthwhile to share the author's impressions of the Dead's shows in England. Not for his insight or writing style (could be better)....just a look at what one awed UK deadhead at the time made of them.
The month of May  saw the Grateful Dead play an historic set at the Hollywood Festival, held at Finney Green near Newcastle-under-Lyme, and the British press were unanimous in their appraisal of the band's performance. Good old Mac Garry (in ZigZag 13) said that they were "totally magnificent", and Dick Lawson in Frendz No.8 went completely bonkers over it all, describing their set as "the most ecstatic exploratory music ever witnessed in England".
Even the pop weeklies, most of whom had previously dismissed the Dead as an over-rated hype, had to admit that here was a band who literally commanded respect simply through their style, their approach and the nature of their music. What they gave in return on that day at Hollywood was three hours of non-stop quality music that apparently left a large proportion of the audience in a state of speechless wonder. After countless rumours of impending visits (notably a projected free 'West Coast' concert in Hyde Park), they'd finally made it, and for the lucky people who saw them the myth became reality.
I'm quite sure, though, that on that occasion they frustrated many more people than they satisfied, mainly because they went straight back to America without playing any other dates, but also because the general consensus of opinion within the band was that they didn't feel they'd played well at all! How difficult it must be for those present at Hollywood to imagine them playing any better is a thought that I don't care to burden my brain with!
Without a doubt the highlight of  was the two-month European tour in April and May that began and ended in London... I was fortunate enough to be able to see them four times, twice at Wembley Pool and twice at the Lyceum, London, and it's quite possible that I haven't been the same since.
Most of the great West Coast bands to emerge during the late sixties have, over the years, received the dubious pleasures of a vast overblown reputation almost entirely created by the news media that puts them in a situation where they've got totally unrealistic expectations to live up to whenever they visit this country to play. The Doors and the Airplane were both superb on their initial appearances over here, but as their reputations spiralled, they were obviously past their peak and are now no longer the important bands they once were. The Doors are excused for obvious reasons, but the sort of rut that the Airplane are currently in saddens me greatly.
The Steve Miller Band, too, impressed me very much when they finally made it here, and Spirit, Love, Country Joe, and even Janis Joplin all managed to justify to some degree the publicity that proceeded them. The most enigmatic band of all, however, the one and only Quicksilver Messenger Service, we of course never got a chance to see, and almost definitely never will.
But the Grateful Dead… well they had a staggering aura and mystique about them. Their brief visit to the Hollywood Festival gave us a substantial appetiser, but now it was time for the real thing, the "acid test". To be quite honest, I was profoundly affected by everything I heard and saw. Not only did they surpass the enormous hopes I had of them, but they proceeded to set completely new standards of excellence right there before our very eyes, and to see and feel it happening was just bloody magic.
It was hard enough on that first night at Wembley coming to terms with the fact that there they were, less than fifty yards away, but by the time they were halfway into an unforgettable version of 'Uncle John's Band' on the last night I saw them at the Lyceum, I had this strange feeling that I'd known them all my life.
Perhaps the most satisfying concert however was the previous night [probably 5/24 - ed.] when I swear that very few bands could have possibly achieved in their entire careers what the Dead did in five hours. A list of the songs they played would be irrelevant, and anyway it's far too long, but every concert was structured and paced to include every conceivable musical form within their scope, and when it was all over it made me feel really good right down inside.
Furthermore, I was given irrevocable proof to support my theory that Phil Lesh is a genius beyond all shadow of a doubt. He was pushing out endless boulder-like notes that formed the base and cornerstone of the whole sound… beautiful imaginative riffs during tightly-arranged numbers, and when they stretched out, veering off the road to God knows where, it was pure counterpoint at its very best.
I'll never forget one particular instance where the band had worked themselves into a piece that trained students of the game would probably describe as "electric chamber music", and Lesh was completely and utterly in control of the whole thing, crouched next to his amp and playing his bass high up on the neck gradually stabilising all the many different melodies and rhythms flying around him, and then leading them off somewhere else completely. Phil Lesh at the height of his creativity — that's not an experience you treat lightly.
But there was so much more to marvel at and enjoy as well. Keith Godchaux, for one, his piano work adding yet another intricate layer to an already rich texture of sound, and it was a nice surprise, too, to see Bob Weir fronting the band, taking most of the lead vocals and leaving Jerry Garcia half-way in the background but with his guiding hand ever present.
Now if there are any of you out there who are not confirmed Dead-heads (and may the ghost of 'St Stephen' have mercy on you), you're probably thinking that everything I've just said is a load of euphoric bullshit written under the influence of an extract from some exotic species of flora. I must admit that that's what I would probably think as well, but you've got to believe me. Everything you've read is the absolute clear-headed truth, and there's no hype or exaggeration there at all, because I know they wouldn't want or need it. They're the only band to have ever provoked such a reaction in me before, and I confidently expect no other band ever will.